Down to the wire was the rule with many championships at stake. Villanova won the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball title when Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer as time expired against North Carolina. Nneka Ogwumike scored on a short jumper with 3.1 seconds left to win the W.N.B.A. title for the Los Angeles Sparks over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx.
The Euro final went to extra time in Paris, and with Portugal’s essential man, Cristiano Ronaldo, injured and patrolling the sideline instead of the wing, it looked as if France would surely win. But in another 2016 surprise, Portugal pulled it off, with the substitute Éder scoring the only goal of the match on a low, well-struck shot from 25 meters to beat the diving French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
It was the biggest year yet for Ronaldo, still more famous than loved but so undeniably great at the global game. And when the Champions League Final went to penalty kicks, he and Real Madrid maintained the traditional pecking order in the Spanish capital by defeating Atlético Madrid, just as they had in the Champions League final in 2014.
Penalties remain a profoundly unsatisfying way to resolve anything of import, but with the margins so narrow at the top in 2016, they kept proving necessary. The Copa América Centenario required them, with Chile defeating Argentina and Lionel Messi. The men’s gold medal game at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro required them, too, and they provided a measure of redemption — if only a measure — for Brazil, as it defeated Germany to win its first Olympic football title.
Neymar, who provided the winning penalty kick, was the same shifty and slender striker who was…